The security of mobile applications used to help monitor industrial control system (ICS) technology is severely lacking, according to a 32-page report released Jan. 11 by security firms IOactive and Embedi.
The researchers found 147 different security vulnerabilities spread across 34 ICS mobile applications that are used with supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems deployed in industrial environments around the world.
"ICS mobile is relatively new, and it's mostly being used for testing and edge cases right now," Jason Larsen, principal security consultant for IOActive, told eWEEK. "The research suggests that the current crop of ICS mobile doesn't have higher quality code than other types of mobile apps. That's the primary reason we’re drawing attention to it."
The research into mobile ICS applications is actually a follow-up to research presented by IOActive at the Black Hat 2015 security conference in Las Vegas. The 2015 research found 50 different vulnerabilities in 20 ICS mobile applications. The researchers tested the ICS mobile apps to look for vulnerabilities that are part of the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) top 10 list of mobile security flaws. All of the mobile apps tested are publicly available on the Google Play store. The researchers did not test any iOS apps as part of the research effort.
"There were several apps from the first report that we reviewed again in the second report, but only if there had been an update to that application since 2015," Alexander Bolshev, security consultant for IOActive, told eWEEK.
According to the report, 47 percent of the mobile ICS apps had insecure data storage issues. The impacted apps enabled users to store data on an SD card or on a virtual storage partition on a mobile device.
"As a side effect, these applications inherited the weaknesses of the filesystems used by these storage devices, as they have no proper ACLs (Access Control List) or permission mechanisms implemented," the report states. "In other words, if the application has the privileges to read/write to this device, it has full access to other data stored on the same device by other applications."
Another issue the researchers found is that 38 percent of analyzed ICS mobile apps did not properly configure secure communication methods. The apps were not properly using Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) certificate validation to verify the integrity of an encrypted server connection.
"We found that no checks were performed by the applications to ensure that they were communicating with the genuine backend and not a rogue backend server," the researchers stated.
Although the main focus of the research was mobile apps, the researchers did look at some of the ICS backend servers as well—and they discovered multiple issues, including SQL injection and information leakage vulnerabilities.
Bolshev said the researchers disclosed the issues to the impacted vendors, noting that several vendors were very good at communicating and fixing the reported vulnerabilities. Bolshey did not, however, provide numbers on how many apps were fixed and how many remain vulnerable. No vendor had a bug bounty program, which would make it easier for security researchers to report potential issues, he added.
It's also not clear if attackers have exploited any of the reported vulnerabilities against ICS infrastructure. In October 2017, US-CERT warned about ongoing threats targeting industrial infrastructure across the United States.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.